Opening the door to employment

Annual Job Fair connects employers with qualified candidates who are blind or visually impaired

Two people shaking hands over a table at the job fair

Fouad Boumjahed shakes hands with Patricia Thomas from Harvard Pilgrim Health Care at the 6th annual Job Fair. Photo Credit: David Gordon.

October 19, 2016

When he signed up to attend the sixth annual Job Fair for Individuals with Visual Impairments, Fouad Boumjahed wasn’t sure what to expect. He’d attended regular job fairs in the past, with mixed results.

“I was very skeptical, very scared,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m going to bump into an employer, I’m going to make a fool out of myself.’”

But inside the Knafel Center at the Radcliffe Institute, Boumjahed found himself very much at ease. He spoke confidently with recruiters about his education and employment history – he was once a store manager for Radio Shack – and interviewed for open positions at Harvard University and Partners HealthCare.   

“The time flew by,” he said. “I enjoyed it very much. There was no fear whatsoever.”

Boumjahed was one of dozens of job seekers with visual impairment to attend Tuesday’s Job Fair, a collaboration between Perkins School for the Blind, The Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB), The Carroll Center for the Blind, and National Braille Press hosted at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.

The crowded room hummed with conversation as applicants exchanged information with representatives from 30 Boston-area employers including Spaulding Rehab Network, Oxfam America and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. Upstairs, hiring managers conducted one-on-one interviews for positions at their organizations.

By late morning, Sharad Chand had met with several candidates he believed could be well-suited for jobs at Residence Inn by Marriott in Watertown, where he is the general manager.

“We’ve got some folks here who have great talent,” he said. “I met someone today who speaks three languages. We don’t find very many people who can do that.”

Across the U.S., many adults who are blind or visually impaired still struggle to get hired despite their qualifications. The most recent disability statistics released by Cornell University show that less than half of American adults with low or no vision participate in the workforce. Of that group, 15 percent are unemployed.

“Oftentimes, those with a severe visual impairment with the educational skills and perhaps prior experience aren’t getting a fair shake at even having an interview,” said MCB Commissioner Paul Saner. “That is why we are here today.”

At the Job Fair, participants don’t have to worry about when and how to disclose their disability. Instead, they can focus on what distinguishes them from other candidates – whether it’s advanced computer skills or a passion for human resources.

At last year’s fair, graduate student Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette impressed a hiring manager from Oxfam with his knowledge of international economics. It landed him an internship, which turned into a permanent position.

This year, Oxfam Global Staffing Specialist Jennifer Coburn was hoping to repeat the process.

“We know that the more diverse your workforce is, the more nimble you are as an organization,” she said. “Dylan has helped us grow by thinking outside our normal areas of focus – he’s been an absolute asset to us in every way you can think of.”

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